On July 1st, 2003, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors, the company that would eventually become the Tesla, Inc. we know today. Tarpenning was a former oil industry worker who had spent time working in Saudi Arabia. Eberhard was a former computer industry engineer. Both formed strong feelings about oil dependency, global warming, and related topics before they co-founded Tesla intending to make a positive impact on the world.
The first car that Tesla marketed was a roadster that borrowed heavily from an existing Lotus model. The Roadster proved one thing beyond a doubt – Electric vehicles could be fun! Eberhard as the first CEO of Tesla is credited with forming the marketing plan to pitch high-performance luxury EVs to wealthy customers.
Elon Musk was later brought on board as an investor. Over time, Eberhard and Musk saw the future of Tesla and its operations through a different lens. Eventually, Musk moved Eberhard out of Tesla and eventually, Eberhard sued Musk. Those who call Elon Musk, who joined the company in 2004, the year after its founding, a founder of Tesla have not only the facts of Tesla’s founding wrong, they also do a disservice to its actual founders.
However, business is business, and Elon Musk is a genius business person. Musk guided the company as it next offered a large, high-performance luxury sedan priced for wealthy buyers through the transition to more attainable models such as the Model 3. It is hard to argue that the Model 3 wasn’t Tesla’s game-changing model. Its sales after its first full ramp-up year of production eventually topped the sales of all rivals in its size and price class.
Tesla became a public company in 2010. This move eventually brought a lot of capital to Tesla, but also struggles as Elon Musk seemed to have trouble playing by the rules the SEC likes to pretend apply to all public companies and their executives.
Although Tesla has had difficulty with profitability, raising capital as of late is relatively easy for Tesla. This was not always the case. In the middle of 2018, Elon Musk attempted to sell Tesla, or take Tesla private. And of all the possible ways to do that, Musk went back to Saudi Arabian oil money for funding. It is a bit ironic that one of Tesla’s original founders left the oil industry only to see what he started nearly be returned to Saudi oil wealth. Later in 2018, Elon Musk revealed that Tesla was single weeks from what Musk termed in an interview, “death.”
Following the Model 3’s massive, industry-altering success, Tesla looked to broaden its product portfolio. Crossovers are all the rage in every price class, but they sell in the largest volumes well below the price point of the Model X minivan/crossover Tesla first produced. The new smaller Model Y has just started to ship and thus, the product line is now S3XY. So clever!
Tesla’s manufacturing operations have spread from an abandoned GM/Toyota factory in California (and even from a tent), to Nevada, Germany, and China. Like many companies, Tesla is now struggling with the burdensome business climate in California. Musk has vowed to move the company’s operations. And to where? Texas, perhaps the least welcoming state in America to Tesla’s direct-sales model.
Ahead, Tesla may succeed in marketing a semi-tractor powered by electricity and a new roadster has been kicking around the design floor for a while. The Cybertruck is also on the horizon, though it is hard at this point to tell what its final production version will look like and how buyers will react. Tesla still faces important challenges. Profitability is touch and go each quarter and a recent study named Tesla the single worst automaker for initial quality.
From the point of view of this industry-watcher, it is clear that Tesla is uniquely successful in building electric vehicles that inspire passion in the company’s fans. Behind every buyer of a Tesla vehicle is a long line of fans hoping to someday join the club. As Tesla enters its 18th year, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for this unique company.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on the Torque News Facebook Page, and view his credentials at Linkedin
Tesla showroom image by John Goreham. Re-use with permission only.